When I was a just a tiny little kiddo, either my mom or my grandmother introduced me to Alice for the Very Young, which is sort of a Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with training wheels. Just one look at the cover and I was hooked for life. Alice was young and pale and blonde, just like me. I wanted to be just like her and, in some ways, I already felt like I was her. Alice remains my literary buddy to this day. In tough times, she is my rock and my safe space. I go to her when I am not OK. Decades after picking this book up for the first time, she’s still there when I feel lost or out-of-place or just plain sad.
This is my somewhat convoluted way of saying that it didn’t take much to get me hooked on reading. All I needed was a drawing of a girl that shared a couple of similar features with me, and I was in it for life. Not only did Alice help me gravitate towards “big kid” books (in droves!), but she showed me that little girls like me could be smart and brave and clever. If Alice could persevere in complicated situations, then so could I.
Do you see what I’m saying here? It is *so* powerful to read a book and look at a character and say, “That could be me. I could do that.”
This is why I am delighted by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which you can read all about here. As a white child with blonde hair, the truth is, I could see myself represented in a multitude of books and TV shows and movies and magazines. Popular culture has always included people like me (though, now that I’m plus-sized, I’m a little harder to find, but that’s a whole other deal). I’ve never really had to worry about whether or not I belong. It’s always sort of been implied.
However, when a parent at the library tells me that their multi-ethnic daughter is feeling bad about the way she looks, I find myself having to scrounge around in the stacks to find a picture book featuring a bi-racial child. Yes, these books exist, but not in large numbers.
When I’m searching for a middle-grade book with a black protagonist, the options shouldn’t be only historical fiction titles concerning slavery or civil rights. How about a modern day boy in a realistic setting? Or a fantasy book? Or sci-fi? How about some choices?
How come Park from Eleanor and Park is one of the few Asian protagonists in popular young adult literature? (Not to mention that his Eleanor is one of the very few fat girl-protagonists YA lit has to offer).
When I review books for the Rainbow List, why am I not totally inundated with titles? Why isn’t my mailbox completely overflowing with novels and picture books and comics and non-fiction? Why am I not faced with an insurmountable mountain of eligible books? Where are the queer protagonists for teens and, especially, children? And out of these Rainbow List titles, why is the T in LGBTQ hardly ever represented? Why am I meant to believe that Queer POC don’t exist? And why do most covers feature a white, middle- to upper-middle class cis-boy? Where are the female and female-identified characters?
Why does popular, mainstream culture want me to believe that the default human being is a white, straight, cis-gendered man that the rest of us are just supposed to magically identify with?
Before I go, I want to leave you with some of the fantastic pictures from the incredible people at Oakland Library (I’ve always considered them to be Brooklyn’s sister city, is that OK?). This isn’t a contest to see who can take the best pictures, but I have to say that Oakland is winning in the best way possible:
Check out their Twitter feed right now, because it’s rad.
What would a world with more diverse books mean to you or the patrons and young people you serve?
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid